After years trapped in a cycle of drugs and crime, Joe had lost everything, even his family.
But after finding Christ in prison, he is now completely free from addiction and has been restored to his family. He tells his story…
Growing up, both my parents were alcoholics and I had five older brothers who all took drugs. My dad had me when he was 50 and my mum was in her early forties.
I used to come home from school and have to carry my dad up to his bed because he was drunk. I was always trying to cover the shame.
My oldest brother was about 22 when I was born. I looked up to him as a father figure, because my dad was an old alcoholic while my brother was cool.
I went through life wishing my brother was my dad. By the time I was 12 I’d started smoking cannabis with him. Four years later I’d moved on to heroin. By the time I was 18 I was injecting heroin and taking methadone.
Over the years I was in and out of prison countless times for shoplifting, breaking into homes and once for an assault with a knife. I weighed just six and a half stone because of the damage the drugs had done.
One night when I was 24 my brother went out to get his heroin and he didn’t come back. He had been arrested. Four weeks later when he came home from prison, he went straight to our bathroom. I had a feeling there was something wrong. When he came out he was chalk white with sweat dripping off him and then he started convulsing. By the time the ambulance arrived he was already dead.
My life sunk to its lowest point four years later when I walked into my mum’s house to find her extremely unwell. I called an ambulance. While I waited for them to arrive, they told me to grip her hands, but only one of them was gripping.
Earlier I’d stolen money out of my mum’s purse to pay for drugs. When they asked me if I wanted to go in the ambulance with my mum, I knew there was only one decision I was making that day and that was to go and get drugs instead.
I didn’t know that as I was gripping my mum’s hands it would be last time I was going to see her alive. I knew the decisions I’d made were wrong, but it was something I’d always have to live with.
I was definitely broken. None of my family wanted to speak to me. Nobody wanted to know me. I had no friends. I had nothing.
Everything began to change when I met Maurice Craig who was part of an outreach taking place with Teen Challenge. He tried to get to know me and asked me questions about my life.
Where I come from, people only want to know you if you make money and can get certain drugs, but there was something different about this guy. The more he spoke to me, the more it softened me up.
Eventually I decided to get some help and went to a Teen Challenge rehabilitation centre called Whitchester House.
For the first 12 weeks, I couldn’t sleep at all at night as I was coming off the methadone. If I hadn’t been 26 miles away from the nearest town I would have left. Through those long nights all I would think about was how I might get away.
On one day in particular, I was more desperate than ever to leave. That day, I received two letters. One included the words from Psalm 62: ‘I stand patiently before God. My victory comes from him. He alone is my rock.’ The other included Philippians 1:6: ‘He who began a work in you will finish it until the day of completion.’ Somehow, even though I didn’t know God at the time, those verses helped me to stay where I was.
None of my family wanted to speak to me. Nobody wanted to know me. I had no friends. I had nothing.
I remember thinking at the time, ‘If God exists, why had I gone through all this?’ I was only there to get off drugs and if anybody spoke to me about Christianity I didn’t want to listen.
But the one person able to reach me was a young guy called Stuart. He had a stutter and, because of my time in prison where you learn not to bully certain people, I couldn’t tell him to shut up. I didn’t have the heart to. He was asking me if I read my Bible and I said it didn’t make any sense, so he explained it to me.
I used to look forward to doing work duties with him because I could listen to him. There was something about his voice. Every word he said gripped me. Then one day he invited me up to the classroom to say a prayer of salvation and I did it. I don’t think I really understood what I was saying, but I know I meant it.
There was a gradual change in me. In chapel services at rehab, instead of listening to who was preaching I was listening to a voice behind the voice. I believe God was speaking to me and it was getting louder. I think people could see a difference in me because, as I progressed through the programme, they very quickly put me in charge of the kitchen.
At the centre, there was a prayer board. I really wanted to write a prayer request for me to be restored to my family, but I just didn’t have the boldness to do it. I didn’t want to be disappointed, because it just didn’t seem possible. But after my outreach worker asked me why I never spoke about my family I decided to post my request. About two months later I was back in contact with my nieces and my brother, who was also in rehab.
After I completed the 18-month programme at Whitchester House I got a job. But there was still something missing for me and before I knew it I’d relapsed.
Then someone from The Message contacted my outreach worker because they knew each other and told him about The Oaks, their residential centre which supports people in situations like mine.
I applied and three months later I moved in. When I first came to The Oaks, I didn’t really expect it to help: I didn’t think simply moving in with a family would make any difference. But I was wrong. They just showed me so much love.
I had five brothers in my real family and at The Oaks I gained five new brothers. It’s such a tight community and you become close with people and you do everything together. Even though I’ve moved out and live in my own place now, I’m still there every night for my dinner. I live just a few doors away. They all check up on me to see how I am. They really showed me how to do family and do it well.
While I was staying at The Oaks I volunteered at the Message Enterprise Centre in the Mess Café kitchen. One of the best days of my life was when I recently became a permanent team member.
I had five brothers in my real family and at The Oaks I gained five new brothers.
It means a lot to me because I’ve never managed to stick at any jobs before. So just the fact I’m holding down a full-time job is amazing. I’ve only had three jobs in my life, thrown out of college, flung out of school. But here I’ve not missed a day.
It’s so rewarding, particularly at the end of an event we’ve hosted when somebody comes up to you and says it was brilliant. I just love working with such a great team.
My hope for the future is to be fully qualified as a professional chef. One of my brothers is now a Christian, but my dream is that the rest of them will all be saved as well.
Since moving into The Oaks and working at the Message Enterprise Centre, I’ve grown in confidence and really grown in my faith. Every day, I’m inspired by working alongside people who are so passionate about reaching others with the good news about Jesus – the same good news that changed my life.